Surprise Canyon Lawsuit Tossed Out of Court

In another controversy over desert roads, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit aimed to re-open Surprise Canyon, (near Ballarat) to off road vehicle use.


When mining was still active, the road up Surprise Canyon supplied Panamint City, high up in the Panamint Mountains. Since then the road has washed out repeatedly, leaving a wild canyon where 4×4 enthusiasts use winches to pull their vehicles up a series of waterfalls.


Environmental groups see the creek that flows through Surprise Canyon as a rare desert resource in need of protection from vehicle use.


Off road vehicle travel in Surprise Canyon was banned in 2000 and 4×4 fans sued the Federal Government to re-open the Canyon under a civil war era law known as R.S. 2477.


R.S. 2477 is an old statute that grandfathers in rights of way up until the law was repealed in 1976. R.S. 2477 is also the same law that Inyo County is using to sue the federal government over other roads in Death Valley National Park.


When we spoke with Assistant Inyo County Counsel Randy Keller about the Surprise Canyon lawsuit, he explained that the judge found that private groups and individuals, like the off roaders, cant use the R.S. 2477 to claim a right of way.


As for the county lawsuit against Death Valley National Park, Keller explained that while individuals dont have the jurisdiction to claim a right of way, a public entity like the county or the state can.


It should not come as a surprise but environmental groups, like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club are happy with the decision to dismiss the Surprise Canyon lawsuit.

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